Contemporary Fears of Children and Adolescents: Coping and Resiliency in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

With more than a century of research, fears are well documented. Hall (1897) reported such fears as thunderstorms, darkness, death, animals, disease, and ghosts. Nearly 40 years later, Jersild and Holmes (1935b) classified fears as follows: (a) concrete events (e.g., animals, strange people), (b) losses (e.g., failure, health, death), and (c) imaginative fears (e.g., supernatural, darkness, being alone, movies, radio programs). When Hall's and Jersild and Holmes's (1935b) fear research were compared, technological advances (i.e., movies and radio) appeared to influence the content changes that were found. Nevertheless, distinct fear patterns were common (e.g., animals, darkness, death, supernatural) across these two studies and throughout the early 20th century.

Although technological advances prompted new fears in Jersild and Holmes's (1935b) research, the AIDS epidemic caused the fear of AIDS to soar among youth in the 1990s (Burnham, 1995; Gullone, 2000). Similarly, 9/11 instigated the fear of terrorist attacks in 2001 among children and adolescents in the United States (Burnham, 2007). Thus, with fear studies across 3 centuries (19th through the 21st) and data to show that fears can change based on present events, issues, and concerns (e.g., war, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, school shootings), it is imperative that researchers continue to study the fears of children and adolescents. With this in mind, the current study had three aims: (a) to examine contemporary fears of youth (i.e., most common fears) in Grades 2-12, (b) to determine whether a current fear assessment needs to be modified for the 21st century, and (c) to offer challenges for school counselors in the 21st century.

* What Are the Contemporary Fears of the 21st Century?

There are no exhaustive lists of the contemporary fears of today's children, although researchers have attempted to examine contemporary fears through the years (Burnham, 1995, 2005; Muris, Merckelbach, & Collaris, 1997; Muris, Merckelbach, Meesters, & van Lier, 1997; Muris et al., 2002; Owen, 1998; Shore & Rapport, 1998). Adler (1994) concluded that children fear crime, racial tension, poverty, divorce, pollution, overpopulation, world hunger, guns, shootings, gangs, dying, kidnapping, and being home alone. Owen added street drugs, gangs, gunshots, being burned, and drive-by shootings, whereas Gullone and King (1992) confirmed that AIDS was a contemporary fear.

* Causes of Contemporary Fears

On the basis of the literature, the causes of contemporary fears of youth vary; however, many fears have emerged across time because of children's and adolescents' exposure to situations on a frequent basis. The common situations often include (a) global events (e.g., trauma, disasters, war, diseases), (b) television/media exposure, and (c) societal changes.

Global Events

Global events, crises, diseases, and disasters have prompted researchers to study contemporary fears of children and adolescents. For instance, Pratt (1945) looked at the effects of World War II on children. As world powers made nuclear war seemingly imminent in the 20th century, children's concerns about nuclear war were analyzed (Buban, McConnell, & Duncan, 1988; Slee & Cross, 1989; Wallinga, Boyd, Skeen, & Paguio, 1991). After the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, Terr et al. (1999) studied posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, whereas the AIDS epidemic brought attention to AIDS as a fear for children (Gullone, 2000). Similarly, the 9/11 terrorist attacks triggered an influx of studies addressing anxieties and concerns of youth (Pine & Cohen, 2002; Schlenger et al., 2002; Schuster et al., 2001; Squires, 2002; Stuber et al., 2002).

Television and Media Exposure

Media exposure, primarily television, has been another cause of fear among children for decades. In fact, prior to the popularity of television, Jersild and Holmes (1935a) reported fears of "characters met in stories, motion pictures, and radio programs" (p. …